Due Date

With studios rolling out their potential Oscar contenders there are plenty of high quality cinematic endeavors on which I could have spent my time and money on this fine day.  But………..no.   No, no, no.  Because there is also a brand new Robert Downey Jr. comedy in theaters and frankly, I’m going with giant RDJ, even if The Social Network is running 8.4 on IMDb.  And I gotta tell you, I’m more than glad I did.  Due Date is a blast.

Have you seen Planes, Trains and Automobiles?  You know, the comedy starring Steve Martin and John Candy from waaaay back in 1987?  You probably have – it’s been on TV a thousand times and is very, very funny.  Two strangers, via a variety of mishaps and misunderstandings, end up making their way across the country by whatever means necessary so one of them can get home for an important event.  Why am I giving a plot summary of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, you ask?  Because Due Date has the same plot.   Normally I would consider this a negative, unless it was an actual remake and then I would still normally consider it a negative.  But not here.  Due Date is Planes, Trains and Automobiles on crack.  And it manages to work.

Robert Downey Jr. is uptight Peter, flying home from Atlanta to Los Angeles to be with his pregnant wife (Michelle Monaghan) for the planned birth of their first child.  Peter is charming, arrogant and more than a little controlling and persnickety.  Zach Galifianakis is Ethan, flying to Hollywood to live his dream of becoming an actor.  Ethan is stupid in some very fundamental ways and travels with Sonny, his purse dog.  After an unfortunate encounter on their plane, the two find themselves sharing a rental car and driving from Atlanta to LA.  Hijinks ensue.

It sounds like such a rip-off.  And it is.  But what sells almost any movie is the writing, the characters and the actors on the screen.  Martin and Candy had undeniable chemistry as an odd couple, using mostly gentle humor to loosen up the tightly wound member of the duo.  Downey and Galifianakis have absolutely explosive chemistry, the humor is not the least bit gentle and the two characters are over the top versions of their predecessors.  Ethan is so entirely clueless, naïve and genuinely moronic that anyone would want to kill him within minutes.  Peter has some anger issues and tendencies toward confrontation that do not serve him well in times of stress.  Though most of their troubles are instigated by Ethan, they’re definitely exacerbated by Peter.  It’s a wonderful balance.

Both characters are given priceless material – from wardrobe (Galifianakis in acid washed skinny jeans is a joke all on its own and is never once directly referenced) to plot devices (medicinal pot, anyone?) to dialogue (blunt and crude and touching and crazy) – it’s all there for the actors to mold into something worth watching.  And they do it, time after time.  Director Todd Phillips (who I have to thank for Old School, one of my not-so-guilty pleasures) lets his actors run with the material and they make the most of it.

The plot itself is so over the top that it isn’t even trying to be realistic – know that going in.  Where everything in Planes, Trains and Automobiles is understandable on a certain level, Due Date is a Jud Apatow era comedy, where situations are ludicrous, crass is funny, language is bad throughout, crude is the order of the day and violence is never out of the question.  If that isn’t your kind of humor, stay away.  If you liked Tropic Thunder or The Hangover (also helmed by Phillips), you’re in the right theater.

Downey and Galifianakis are really what make the movie tick.  They do not get along.  They do not have chemistry – they have anti-chemistry.  Every time Peter lets Ethan have it and tells him exactly why he is so annoyed that he wants to kill the man, we understand.  Every time Ethan tears up (or puffs up, which is even funnier) because he really doesn’t get why Peter is so angry, we understand that, too.  Downey starts out looking very professional and collected, anxious to get home to his pregnant wife.  He gets progressively more disheveled and his eyes begin to take on the crazed look of a man trapped in a funhouse…with another man that he hates.  Galifianakis seems to remain his same weird self throughout.  Maybe he gets a little dirty on occasion, but for the most part he’s perfectly happy with how things are going, despite grievous bodily injury, public masturbation and his increasingly agitated companion.  The more unintentionally annoying he gets, the more we see the explosive side of Peter.  It’s a beautiful friendship.  If you’re suicidal.

Due Date is not brilliant cinema.  It’s a raucous, raunchy comedy that hits a whole lot of funny notes.  It doesn’t score every time (Ethan does, on more than one occasion, fall into the category of “too stupid to survive to adulthood”) but when it does the moments are truly laugh-out-loud funny.   Do not see this movie is you are sensitive about language, vulgarity or general bad behavior.  Do see it if you like over the top adult comedies with a lot of very silly laughs and a few poignant moments to break up the chaos.  Galifainakis is a funny, funny man and Downey is a brilliant straight man.  Go see Due Date if you’re in the mood to laugh, not take anything seriously and put your disbelief on a shelf for a while.  It isn’t a “film”, it’s a movie – enjoy!

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